My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on securing this debate, even though I am not keen on Bills that attempt to bind future Parliaments to adopt currently fashionable approaches. They are futile because, mercifully, we cannot bind future Parliaments—and nor should we, because future Parliaments should make policy in the light of the experience, evidence and values of the future, not of the past.
However, I warmed to the Bill’s definition of what it calls the “future generations principle”, which the noble Lord defines as
“acting in a manner which seeks to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
I agree that that is a principle which we should adopt, even though we do not need to enshrine it in law. Sadly, however, we have been doing exactly the opposite. As my noble friend Lady Stroud said, our pandemic policies have sacrificed young people, the next generation, to the benefit of their elders and not-so-betters. Even though children almost never suffer badly from Covid, schools and universities have been closed for much of the time and young people’s education curtailed, at the behest of teachers and parents, and to save granny.
Our climate policy sacrifices the poor of the world today for the benefit of their descendants, who will be far richer, in future. It is true that poor countries are more vulnerable to climate change than rich ones, but they are vulnerable because they are poor. The cure for poverty, and therefore for vulnerability, is economic growth, which requires energy. I do not often quote Lenin with approval, but he did say that the future well-being and prosperity of the workers’ paradise would come about as a result of communism and electricity —and he was half right. It is electricity that you need for growth and economic prosperity, and to make a country more resilient.
To require poor countries to replace cheap fossil fuels with far more expensive and less reliable intermittent renewables, which are several times more costly when you take account of dealing with their intermittency, means that poor countries will be able to invest far less in growth and development and will therefore remain poor for longer. Yet Stern shows that, even on his most pessimistic assumptions that we do nothing to mitigate climate change, people in developing countries will, by such economic growth as is then permitted, be six times richer a century hence than they are now. Why should we prolong the poverty of poor people now in order to make richer people in future generations better off?